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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ezekiel 25

Chapter 25-32 Oracles Against Foreign Nations.

The first question we must ask as we consider these chapters is as to why they are included in a prophecy to Israel, and why they are placed here between the first investment of Jerusalem by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 24:2), and the later successful conclusion of the siege by him.

They do in fact present a remarkable message. Here was Jerusalem, surrounded by enemies, about to be crushed, and Yahweh’s land was about to be taken from them. Soon there would be no nation of Israel or Judah. Their surrounding neighbours were already taking advantage of their situation, great Tyre to the north was prospering and magnifying herself, partly at her expense, and Egypt was sitting back after a vain effort at assistance, having fomented many of their problems, and allowing them to be destroyed. Was not this therefore evidence that Yahweh had no more time for His people, that His favour was rather being shown to her neighbours? Did it not further mean that these nations would despise Israel’s God, and see Him of little account?

Ezekiel’s answer here is a resounding ‘No!’. Yahweh was also about to reveal His power against these very nations. They too would come under His judgment precisely because of their attitude towards Him and His people. And they would be made to recognise that Yahweh was still powerful and at work by the judgments which came on them. They would know that He is Yahweh (something constantly reiterated throughout the section) as Egypt had known long before at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 7:5; Exodus 7:17; Exodus 8:22; Exodus 14:4; Exodus 14:18). They would learn a hard lesson.

This is why Babylon is not included among them. Babylon is as yet the instrument of these judgments, and Nebuchadnezzar is acting under the constraint of Yahweh. What is happening therefore is not disaster, it is the forwarding of His plans by the hand of the supreme king Nebuchadnezzar who but unconsciously does His bidding.

Thus we must see a number of reasons for these oracles, all centred around the above facts.

1) They demonstrated that in spite of their dire straits God had not forgotten His people. He was still concerned about other nations’ behaviour towards them.

2) They demonstrated that in spite of the fall of Jerusalem Yahweh was still God over the whole world. The fall of Jerusalem would not mean that Yahweh was defeated. It would reveal that He was also controlling what was happening round about. He controlled the destiny of nations.

3) They filled in a gap during a period when Ezekiel was silent towards Jerusalem, when he had no word of Yahweh for them. Some of these prophecies, carefully dated, specifically occurred during that period, and bring home the fact that at the same time as there was no word from God through Ezekiel for Jerusalem and the exiles, God was still speaking on her behalf, to the surrounding world. They symbolised God’s final triumph over all things.

4) They demonstrated the future decline of these foreign nations in contrast with the future promises of restoration for Israel, emphasising the certainty of the final triumph of God’s people.

5) They happened and affected Israel.

The oracles are split into a group of four which form a unity and follow a similar pattern (chapter 25), and may well have been given at the same time, and then a further three which are more expansive against Tyre, Sidon and Egypt.

Some of the oracles against the nations are dated and come before the fall of Jerusalem, an oracle against Egypt in Ezekiel 29:1 onwards being in January 587 BC, oracles against Pharaoh in Ezekiel 30:20 onwards, and Ezekiel 31:1 onwards, being in April and June 587/6 BC, while others are dated after the fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 29:17; Ezekiel 32:1; Ezekiel 32:17). The oracle against Tyre in Ezekiel 26:1 onwards clearly comes after the siege by its content. We can tentatively date it in February 586/5 BC. This depends on the date given to the fall of Jerusalem (587/6 BC) and the information about the arrival of the newsbearer in Ezekiel 33:21 where there are variant readings (January 586/585 BC).

It is probably noteworthy that seven nations were selected against whom oracles were uttered (Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, Egypt). Aside from Egypt they surrounded Israel in a clockwise direction commencing east of Jordan. The number seven was considered significant throughout the whole of the Ancient Near East as the number of divine perfection and completeness. They may thus in one sense be seen as God’s word to the whole world. That they did not include Babylon arises from the fact that Babylon was temporarily God’s agent (Ezekiel 17:20; Jeremiah 32:3-5), and Nebuchadnezzar temporarily His ‘servant’ (Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 27:6) and ‘son’ (see on Ezekiel 21:10), although their final certain punishment had also been declared elsewhere.

The first four oracles, against Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia, are stern and brief and follow a similar pattern of ‘because -- therefore --’. Compare similar oracles of Amos 1:3 to Amos 2:3 in slightly different format but with a parallel idea. They bear the mark of a prophetic denouncement. These were nations already on the wane, as Israel seemed to be itself. The other three oracles are more colourful and expanded. They were dealing with those thought of as more worthy of notice and therefore deserving of wider treatment. Tyre appears to have been selected for special treatment because, along with Egypt, it symbolised the height of blasphemy against Yahweh, the claim to being divine.

Verses 1-3

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards the children of Ammon and prophesy against them, and say to the children of Ammon, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh, because you said “Aha” against my sanctuary when it was profaned, and against the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and against the house of Judah when they went into captivity.” ’

The opening phrase ‘the word of Yahweh came to me saying’ (compare Ezekiel 26:1; Ezekiel 27:1; Ezekiel 28:1; Ezekiel 28:11; Ezekiel 28:20; Ezekiel 29:1; Ezekiel 29:17; Ezekiel 30:1; Ezekiel 30:20; Ezekiel 31:1; Ezekiel 32:1; Ezekiel 32:17) indicates the commencement of a new oracle. Thus the oracles against Ammon, Moab, Edom and Philistia are as one oracle.

‘Son of man.’ This method of address to Ezekiel continues throughout the book. It is a reminder to him that he is but an earthly man being approached by the God of creation. It is a reminder of his weakness and creatureliness, a warning against presumption. But it also contains within it in its frequency a sense of having been chosen. He is that ‘son of man’ whom God has chosen out as His instrument and mouthpiece and addresses personally. Thus it inculcates humility and loving confidence and response.

‘Set your face.’ While this may be seen only as a general instruction, it may be that Ezekiel did actually ‘set his face’ in that direction to indicate more directly the power of the word of Yahweh going forth.

Ezekiel 25:3 now introduces the ‘because --’, the charge laid against Ammon. At first sight in context this may well be seen as referring to a time after the destruction of Jerusalem when Ammon shook their heads knowingly because Yahweh had been unable to protect His people and Jerusalem, and the temple lay in ashes and the land lay desolate.

But it could equally apply to the period when Jerusalem was under siege, and the Egyptians who came to offer aid had withdrawn, with the ‘wise’ Ammonites realising that Jerusalem’s situation was hopeless and that Yahweh could no longer help them, and standing aside, and doing nothing but say ‘Aha’.

The descriptions fit both situations. Ezekiel had spoken of the sanctuary as having already been profaned before the final destruction (Ezekiel 23:39), along with Yahweh’s holy things (Ezekiel 22:26), partly because the Jerusalemites had offered their children through fire to Molech the god of these very Ammonites. This may well have made the children of Ammon say ‘Aha’ as they saw their god triumphing in Jerusalem.

And the land of Israel had been made desolate long before, at which point Ammon had taken advantage of the situation and had been condemned for it (Jeremiah 49:1-6), and it had been made desolate again by Nebuchadnezzar’s approach to Jerusalem. Furthermore the ‘house of Judah’ could be seen as having been taken into captivity twice in previous invasions (2 Kings 24:13-15; 2 Chronicles 36:5-6 with Daniel 1:1-4), both times when Ammon might well have said ‘Aha’ as they themselves took part, (certainly the first time), in the war on Babylon’s side (2 Kings 24:2).

Note in this regard that Ezekiel has up to this point only rarely used the phrase ‘the house of Judah’, and then to specifically distinguish it from Israel in the north (Ezekiel 4:6), and usually speaks of ‘the house of Israel’ to include both, seeing both the Jerusalemites and the exiles and all Israel as the house of Israel. Thus the use here may suggest that the previous captivities are in mind. The final captivity would, in Ezekiel’s mind, be ‘of Israel’.

So there are good reasons why this oracle may have been given while Jerusalem was surrounded and before its final downfall.

Either way the point is that God has seen their attitude towards His people and will punish them for it.

Verses 1-7

The Oracle Against Ammon (Ezekiel 25:1-7 ).

The Ammonites, while possibly having been joined with Judah and others in an anti-Babylon alliance, were permanent enemies of Israel/Judah (see Judges 3:13; Judges 10-11; 1 Samuel 11:0; 2 Samuel 10:0; 2 Kings 24:2; 2 Chronicles 20:0; Amos 1:13; Zephaniah 2:8-9). They were excluded from becoming Israelites by adoption for ‘ten generations’ (Deuteronomy 23:3). That they were part of an alliance with Jerusalem is suggested by Ezekiel 21:18-22. But that did not prevent them from pouring scorn on Jerusalem’s situation, which made their sin the worse. And later their king would help to arrange the assassination of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:14 to Jeremiah 41:2) at the hand of Israelites who had fled to Ammon for protection against the approaching Babylonian armies.

Verses 4-5

“Therefore, behold, I will deliver you to the children of the east for a possession, and they will set their encampments in you, and make their dwellings in you. They will eat your fruit and they will drink your milk. And I will make Rabbah a pasturage for camels, and the children of Ammon a fold for flocks, and you will know that I am Yahweh.”

Their punishment was to be that their country would be taken over by the very people whom they probably despised the most, the desert nomads, the ‘children of the east’, who would simply use their capital city and their land as a pasturage and sheepfold. Civilisation would cease. Ammon would be no more (Ezekiel 21:32). It would be total humiliation.

Ammon itself was a wilder country than the more civilised and sophisticated Moabites, but none feel their status more than those who feel the superiority of having risen above their even wilder desert neighbours. The thought that their country, and their proud cities, which had been theirs for centuries, and which distinguished them from their desert neighbours, would become mere pasturage and sheepfolds for such desert-dwellers would have appalled them.

Verses 6-7

‘For thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because you have clapped your hands, and stamped with the feet, and rejoiced with all the malice of your heart against the land of Israel, therefore behold I have stretched out my hand on you, and will deliver you for a spoil to the nations, and I will cut you off from the peoples, and I will cause you to perish from among the countries. I will destroy you, and you will know that I am Yahweh.” ’

The charge is extended to the fact that they had not only said the knowing ‘Aha’ but had actually shown great glee and delight in Jerusalem’s misery. Indeed their malice is stressed. And this was against the people of Yahweh, and therefore a slight on Yahweh Himself. Thus Yahweh, Who deals righteously with all nations, would stretch out His hand and hand them over as spoil to the nations, and would have them removed for ever from the list of nations. As this occurred to them they would then know that He is Yahweh, and that they were wrong to say ‘Aha’ at what they thought was His defeat. It would now be His turn to say ‘Aha’.

According to Josephus it was an historical fact that Ammon no longer existed as a nation after Nebuchadnezzar had first destroyed it, and then the Bedouins from the east had plundered it and taken it over. The ‘bringing again’ of the captivity of the children of Ammon (Jeremiah 49:6) may refer to the Persian period (Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 4:7), but more probably it is God’s way of saying that finally none of these nations go beyond His purview even in their extremity. When God reaches out to the new Israel, the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:16), with the Gospel (Isaiah 61:1-2), it will include many from all these countries.

Verses 8-11

‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because Moab and Seir say, ‘Behold the house of Judah is like all nations’, therefore behold I will open the side of Moab from the cities, from his cities which are on his frontiers, the glory of the country, Beth-jeshimoth, Baal-meon, and Kiriathaim, to the children of the East, along with the children of Ammon, and I will give them for a possession, that the children of Ammon may not be remembered among the nations. And I will execute judgments on Moab, and they will know that I am Yahweh.” ’

Moab is here connected with Edom (Seir) as saying that ‘the house of Judah is just like other nations’, and thus that her God is the same. Together they reject the idea that Judah are the favoured of Yahweh Who is all-powerful. They deride Judah from afar.

Thus Moab will share the fate of Ammon with whom she was in continual alliance. Her countryside will be opened up to the children of the East by the destruction of her main fortresses, that were the source of her strength. It will be opened up ‘from the cities, that is the frontier cities’. Its most glorious areas, her pride and joy, will be opened up, Beth-jeshimoth (‘house of the deserts’), a place near the north-east shore of the Dead Sea in the Jordan rift valley, Baal-meon, built by the Reubenites (Numbers 32:38) and captured and held by the Moabites when they became strong, and Kiriathaim, declared by Mesha in his 9th century inscription to have been rebuilt by him when he captured it from Israel.

Note the stress again on the fact that Ammon’s days were numbered. Moab will suffer alongside her as being so closely connected with her that she can be seen as one with her, and indeed she would suffer the same fate, disappearing from history. Thus she too learned too late Who and What Yahweh was. And in her disappearance Yahweh, the everlasting One, was vindicated.

Verses 12-13

‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because Edom has dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and has greatly offended, and revenged herself on them,” therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, “I will stretch out my hand on Edom and will cut off man and beast from it, and I will make it desolate from Teman, even to Dedan they will fall by the sword.” ’

Edom is singled out as especially treacherous (Psalms 137:7-9) a fact reflected in the continual animosity revealed against her elsewhere (Obadiah 1:21; Malachi 1:3-5). We do not know quite what she did but she acted positively in some way to bring as much harm on Jerusalem as possible. In Ezekiel 35:5 it is said that they ‘gave over the children of Israel to the power of the sword in the time of their calamity’. This suggests that they turned back those seeking refuge in Edom into the hands of their pursuers, an example of heartless cynicism and cruelty that would not easily be forgiven. Even Moab and Ammon did not do that. And there is evidence of Edomite occupation of southern Judah after the exile ( 1Ma 5:65 ; Josephus; the Zenon papyri). It seemed that she took full and vicious advantage of Jerusalem’s cruel dilemma.

Because of this her fate was to be severe, although we do not actually have any details of what immediately happened to her. She was to be totally desolated. There is certainly evidence of a later Arab population.

The inhabitants of Teman in northern Edom were renowned for their wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7; Obadiah 1:8-9). Teman may be identified with Tawilan which has been excavated to reveal a large Edomite town of the 8th to 6th centuries BC. Dedan was in north west Arabia and well known for its role in the caravan trade (Ezekiel 27:20; Isaiah 21:13), and is mentioned in inscriptions. The site is now known as al-‘Ula

Verses 12-14

The Oracle Against Edom (Ezekiel 25:12-14 ).

Edom has already been mentioned in the charge against Moab. Ammon and Moab were seen as brother nations descended from Lot (Genesis 19:37-38), while Edom was seen as descended from Esau (Genesis 32:3; Genesis 36:8). They were thus related nations, and their land was seen as given to them by Yahweh, which was why Moses had sought to avoid conflict with them (Deuteronomy 2:18-19; Deuteronomy 2:22). But now He was taking it away from them. They had gone too far.

Verse 14

‘ “And I will lay my vengeance on Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they will do in Edom according to my anger and according to my fury, and they will know my vengeance”, says the Lord Yahweh.’

Here was a message of hope for Israel. For God’s just judgment on Edom would come through the hand of Israel herself, and if that were to be so she had to be restored to the land. There are two kinds of revenge. One is thoughtless and indiscriminate going beyond what is justified. God would have no part in that. The other is measured and deserved, a measured response to a genuine offence given in accordance with the deserts of those on whom the vengeance is requited. That was what was intended here.

What we do know is that later Edom and its survivors were subdued by Judas Maccabaeus, and then by John Hyrcanus (later Jewish leaders), who incorporated them into the Jewish race by compulsory circumcision. Again they lost their nationhood. And all this would take place because of God’s antipathy against their gross sin.

Verses 15-17

‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, “Because the Philistine have dealt by revenge, and have taken revenge with heartfelt malice to destroy it with perpetual enmity, therefore, thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I will stretch out my hand on the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast. And I will execute vengeance on them with severe rebukes, and they will know that I am Yahweh when I will lay my vengeance on them.” ’

The oracle is short and to the point. ‘Because -- therefore --.’ Those who are at enmity with God’s people are at enmity with God, especially as by their attitude they are declaring their attitude towards Yahweh Himself (for here they were to be made to know that He is Yahweh). Here the enmity of Philistia is depicted as permanent and perpetual. There was no pity, only malice. That I why they were to be punished (compare Zephaniah 2:5). Those who show malice will reap what they sow.

The Cherethites were regularly linked with the Philistines as one. The name probably connects with ‘Cretans’. They had come over together from Crete and the Aegean. They are last mentioned in the Old Testament in Zechariah 9:6. After Maccabaean times the Philistines ceased as a people although the names of their cities were perpetuated. The alliteration ‘the cutting off of the Cherethites’ is more prominent in the Hebrew.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 25". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.